Brit Liggett

Borders Plans to Trash Tens of Thousands of Unsold Books!

by , 01/18/10
filed under: Green Rant

borders dumps books, waste, eco rant, sustainable design, green design, merchandise trashing, bordersborders book store, commercial waste

Ok, now we’re really mad. The news about trashed merchandise keeps getting worse. In the wake of last week’s story that H&M and Walmart have been ditching unsold clothing in trash cans behind their stores, some employees from the Borders Group have outed their company for plans to trash tens of thousands of books when they close over 200 Waldenbooks locations by the end of January.

The employees made a facebook group describing the company’s intent to rip the covers off unsold books, pack them up and send them back to warehouses to be trashed. The plan is to spread the news and pressure Borders to donate instead of dump the unwanted merchandise. And that’s not the worst of it – this is actually standard practice for most chain bookstores. An Inhabitat team member who worked at a Barnes and Noble heard about the practice of stripping book covers off of books and dumping them at Orange County, California locations in 2005.

borders dumps books, waste, eco rant, sustainable design, green design, merchandise trashing, borders book store, commercial waste

In this economic time when community centers and public libraries are serving more people than ever, this news is appalling. Public libraries across the country have been contacting Borders to ask for the unwanted merchandise as donations, but it seems Borders is leaning towards the cheapest option — trashing them. Call your local news station, join the facebook group or contact Borders and help get these books donated!

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23 Comments

  1. suprgrl1210 August 21, 2010 at 3:47 pm

    I work for Borders Books and trashing books isn’t cool at all. I’ve talked to my managers about it but I’ve been ignored. No action was taken at all. It’s sad to see such action taking place at Borders. My mom said it reminded her of the Nazis throwing books out in the street and burning them up. How sad!

  2. metis January 25, 2010 at 5:57 pm

    as pointed out this is pretty common, however it’s rare that the books are “trashed” in large volume. they generally get pulped and recycled.

    it’s much more waste of energy to cart them across the country yet again, and many of the books that this happens to are not ones that a library or community reading center may want. yes, in an ideal world every book would be saved or recycled, but there comes a point where your corner library doesn’t want 50 copies of a political memoir from the 1940′s.

  3. Ryan S. Fortney January 22, 2010 at 11:25 am

    In response to this, I linked the article in an update to my blog, here: http://dantem.wordpress.com/2010/01/22/trashing-literature/

    Support books people!

  4. Mainer January 21, 2010 at 3:57 pm

    And you continue to comment as if an outrage is being perpetrated when it was made absolutely clear by “kantoske” (8th comment above) who included a letter from Borders stating that they intend to sell off all of the Waldenbooks inventory through liquidators. THIS MEANS NOTHING WILL BE THROWN OUT. So you can all get off your soapboxes now………

  5. verisimilidude January 21, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    I believe a good part of this is driven by the US tax code. If a publisher thrashes books (or has a bookstore do it for them) they can write them off as a loss. The loss lowers their tax liability. If they take them back and store them they are counted as part of the invested capital of the business and lower the return on investment ratio. A while back, I believe it was in the 80s, publishers tried to get an exemption in the tax code so they could maintain stock after it was returned if they thought it might eventually sell. They were refused the exemption.

  6. Rebecca Mary Denney January 21, 2010 at 9:57 am

    Our landfills do not need more stuff! Everyone needs to take an interest in this issue because waste of any kind will affect our children and grandchildren’s future in this world. We can no longer afford to be ignorant about the landfill problem. My local trash company charges more to recycle. It is up to the average citizen to educate ourselves about issues of waste in our own communities and if it means volunteering to drive to a facility and use our own gas and time to bring about change then so be it. We, as Americans need to get off our couches and be active for change! If we were to make a few phone calls in our community and see how we could possibly do something to help–like drive to the bookstore and get those books and take them to shelters, churches, libraries, or nursing homes. Look into the laws for your community or state and get involved in changing the law, talk to a local manager of a business that throws away a viable product that could be used and appreciated. Instead of blaming someone else , DO something!

  7. squarehappy January 20, 2010 at 5:47 pm

    This is crap. First off, they would only trash their “bargain books” that they basically buy by the pound. New copies of books can be sent back to the publisher for a refund, so why would they trash them?

    Second, they probably have to trash them by publisher mandate. As has already been pointed out, mass market books have the cover stripped and sent back for credit. Same with newspapers, magazines, and other periodicals. Then the actual content goes into a locked dumpster. This happens daily, and yes it does seem like a waste but for the bookstore to give them away would upset the publisher because they would feel that their product had been devalued. We would strip some books and send the covers back only to have fresh new copies come in the next day. Yes it’s stupid but there is a logic to it.

    Third, what could Borders possibly have to lose by giving them away? Libraries/organizations could just come and get them, no effort on the stores’ part. If anyone is to blame here, it’s the publishers.

  8. factor January 20, 2010 at 4:05 pm

    obviously the right thing to do is to donate the product; however, many states have a crazy tax law that actually causes the company to pay somewhere between 5-7% of the value of the product in tax—even on donated material. This is called the “use tax”. it is not in every state and was not designed to work this way, but as is the case most times there are unitended consequences to laws. it causes company to struggle between the right thing to do with the product and the necessary decisions that affect their bottom line. it seems crazy that it actually cost you money to donate the product but it does in certain states, iowa is one of them.

  9. T-rix January 20, 2010 at 10:51 am

    It’s not monkey business. It’s standard practice, industry-wide and has been for at least the 20 years I’ve been a bookseller, and ONLY applies to a certain type of small paperback book. Hardly whistle-blowing. Sorry to burst your bubble – there is no scandal here.

  10. Jason Black January 19, 2010 at 11:22 pm

    Don’t underestimate (or forget) the power of local.

    My guess is that pressuring Waldenbooks corporate offices will get you nowhere fast. However, _local_ schools and libraries, approaching the _local_ managers of the branches in question will likely fare much better. After all, those managers are, in many cases, already going to lose their jobs when the store closes. They know this. How much loyalty could they have back to the corporate office who made the decision to close their store? I can just picture a manager saying, “Well, you know we can’t just give them to you. But we’re set to dispose of them on Friday, after business hours. Gee, I wonder what we’ll do if our dumpster is full? I guess if there happened to be a van or a truck or something parked by the dumpster at that time, we could probably just dispose of them in there…”

  11. WP January 19, 2010 at 10:51 pm

    When I used to work at a local health food store (that has since been swallowed up by Whole Foods) all the dist. company wanted from our unused magazines at the end of the month was the stripped covers… as long as we sent them that, we were free to do with the actual magazine what we wished (usually the employees took them home). I wonder why the same deal would not be the case with MMPBs? Even if the local charities couldn’t handle everything at once, and the store couldn’t afford to ship them, I don’t see why they couldn’t put the offer out for a rep from local groups to come and take what they wanted. I’m sure a person or two could be spared or volunteer to drive over to a closing Waldenbooks and take a carload of the books of their choice back to the library, school, nursing home, shelter, etc. Enough of those types of orgs exist in each city that even if not all the books were claimed, a significant dent would be put into the number sent off for (hopefully) recycling, and the orgs would get to choose what donations would serve them best without being overwhelmed. Sometimes small scale is the best solution. I used to volunteer at a food bank that got donations of day-old bakery goodies from the local Starbucks and Whole Foods. Not every Starbucks in Denver sent them stuff, but someone would pop by the one in the neighborhood and pick up their goodies periodically. It worked – now imagine if every Starbucks everywhere did that! :)

  12. muddy water January 19, 2010 at 4:19 pm

    This is an abomination. What can be done? I find it very hard to believe that these books wouldn’t be better off donated. Also, I think the companies would benefit financially from that donation, unless there’s some “monkey business”, about the disposal of said merchandise. What gives?

  13. Lester Abbott January 19, 2010 at 3:26 pm

    Many libraries, churches, individuals or other organizations could benefit immensely from just a portion of the books planned for destruction. I urge you to consider donating them.

  14. wurdnurd January 19, 2010 at 12:12 pm

    Like xterminal states above, this is a standard practice for MASS MARKET books ONLY. Take a look at a mass market book next time you have a chance, if you see an “S” with a triangle around it, that’s a book that can be “stripped” (the cover pulled and sent back to the publisher/distributor for return, with the rest of the book disposed on the seller’s side). The remains are typically recycled, but not every community has a recycling program. Please bear in mind that ALL new bookstores participate in this practice as the profit margins are simply too slim for bookstores to constantly shell out the shipping charges for books that will only net $2-3 in returns. This practice helps the publisher and bookstore try to stay in the black.
    In regard to what kantoske wrote about hiring an outside firm for the liquidation process: again, this is incredibly common practice. The problem is that it leaves the current employees in a weird limbo where their hours and duties are constantly shifted and, often, their pay is reduced and hours increased during the final closing days. At least, that’s what happened when Mervyn’s, Circuit City and Linens N Things closed in CA.
    And for those who say that donation to charities would be best: So many organizations don’t want/can’t use a huge infusion of inventory. They don’t have the staff nor volunteers to process that many items at one go, and they don’t have the storage/shelf space to house the items. It becomes a huge burden in cost, energy and space. I used to work at a large used media chain: they attempted to donate their aged inventory to NY Public Library, one of the most used library systems in the US (if not world), and NYPL came back and said they couldn’t handle that many donations at once (apprx 10,000 books, DVDs, CDs and video games a month in mostly English and Asian languages). In this case, please bear in mind that Borders/Waldenbooks is on a corporate-level, which is exponentially larger than any non-profit, library or independent bookstore, and the cost outlay will be that much more as well.

  15. tamara moscowitz January 19, 2010 at 11:34 am

    There are so many libraries, community centers, army bases, and schools – whether in the United States or abroad – that are in need of books. I realize the practically of giving the books to a clearinghouse that will sale them at discounted prices, but surely you can find it in your “corporate heart” to donate some of these books to place that are in dire need. Given the quality of education in lower schools, we, as citizens, need to help in every way we can.
    – Concerned citizen -

  16. kantoske January 19, 2010 at 10:27 am

    I was so frustrated about this news that I actually wrote to Borders asking why they they felt this was the best decision and this was their response:

    “Thank you for your inquiry regarding our stock of books.

    We agree that donating books is a worthy concept. However, we do not expect to have any remaining product to donate once we complete clearance sales at the 200 Waldenbooks stores that we plan to close in January 2010.

    To explain, we have retained the services of an outside firm that specializes in store closings/clearance sales. This firm has structured a process for these sales that involves discounting, moving product that is not selling to higher volume stores and consolidating inventory. Through this process, we sincerely expect to have virtually no product left our goal is to sell everything. Therefore, we do not expect to have product to donate or to dispose of.

    I hope this addresses your concerns. Thank you again for writing.”

    I’m not sure how I feel about it yet but thought I would pass along anyway…

  17. xterminal January 19, 2010 at 9:30 am

    This has been standard practice for many, many years, and blaming the bookstores is only half-right; the policy was begun by book companies that dealt mostly in mass-market paperbacks (Bantam-Doubleday-Dell, the Random House family of presses, etc.). The logic behind it, according to the district manager of the now-defunct bookstores between which they endlessly transferred me, is that it wasn’t cost-effective for the book companies to pay double freight on full paperbacks (us shipping back to the distro, the distro shipping them back to the press) when returns time came in February. If we stripped the covers, we could just dump them into a manila envelope and mail them directly back to (insert press name here).

    For the record, at least during my bookstore days, this was never, ever done with hardbacks. (Which left one branch in suburban Philly holding two hundred copies of You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again for all the years I worked for the company. heh.) Only mass market paperbacks (trades were still a rare commodity then). Also for the record, the books weren’t necessarily trashed; employees were allowed to grab copies, as long as we signed off on them. I still have same 20-30 year old strips on my shelves. I sure as hell couldn’t afford to buy books on what that company paid me…

    I asked about donating strips to the local library system. Not sure what Philly’s libraries are like these days (I’ve been in Cleveland for 15 years now), but back then, they needed all the help they could get. I can’t verify what I was told, but according to the same DM, the company opens itself up to big, big lawsuits from the presses if they’re discovered to have donated strips; as the press makes no profit from the book, they would rather see it destroyed. I’ve always thought that explanation was a little squonky, but honestly, I can see a press like Random House saying that without too much trouble. If it IS accurate, it’s time to place the blame a little higher up the food chain than Borders.

  18. Mainer January 19, 2010 at 9:03 am

    I was under the impression that the book destruction thing was contractual – distributor requires that seller returns them,

  19. perfectcirclecarpenter January 19, 2010 at 12:10 am

    The greater portion of the magazines are also thrown away. We should fast forward to the part where we stop printing anything at all, and instead we point our bluetooth phone at the LCD or 3D hologram on display, to download the content and peruse it at our convenience thru hologlasses while the automated transit device takes us home.

  20. dsunshine54 January 18, 2010 at 9:27 pm

    Get with it …. we are working towards not being a throw away society anymore. What a disgrace for a big company. There are so many opportunities to donate to needy causes. Think of the children who need reading material other than the computer screen.

  21. Elemental LED staff January 18, 2010 at 7:27 pm

    Certainly fiction and lit books could be donated to schools, couldn’t they? Perhaps the unused opportunity to make themselves look good by donating books reflects a poor business sense that drove the company out of business to begin with?

  22. llbj January 18, 2010 at 5:49 pm

    Not sure what the current company rule is, but when I worked at Blockbuster Video from 2002-2005, they used to trash dvds, vhs and magazines. Mostly to keep employees from taking the unsold merchandise home, but nonetheless…

  23. CP January 18, 2010 at 5:16 pm

    What the article doesn’t say is that all the books are copies of “The Da Vinci Code”.

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